For sustained and optimum productivity of oil palm at all stages of its life cycle, cultural practices have been developed an&â€™are highlighted below:
- Evolution of Nursery Techniques: From early studies through the present day single and double stage nursery techniques have been evolved. The single stage polybag nursery developed by NIFOR ensures production of healthy transplantable seedlings. The system is cost-effective, allows for greater number of seedlings per unit land. Compared with the double stage nursery technique, the nursery life of seedlings is reduced by about six months by the single stage nursery. Phytosanitary and modern weed control techniques for the nursery oil palm have been worked out and being further refined to ensure economic, and reduce drudgery involved in seedling production. Fertilizer recommendations have also been worked out.
- Land clearing techniques: Studies carried out at NIFOR between 1940s to the early, 1960s have led to the development of systematic procedures for land clearing and field establishment. Land may be cleared manually or mechanically using bulldozers.
- Palm wine production at replanting: Alcohol produced from felled palms is equivalent to 300 litres per palm or 45,000 litres per ha in two weeks can offset the cost of replanting.
- Crop geometry in the field: Studies carried out at NIFOR on the appropriate spacing and crop geometry have shown that under, a triangular spacing 9m (giving 150 palms per hectare) is the optimum under Nigerian conditions.
- Plantation weed management and control: NIFOR scientists have worked out packages of methods of weed control in oil palm plantations over time. The frequency of plantation maintenance has also been worked out.
- Soils nutrition and fertilizer use: From studies carried out between the early 1940s and 1960s, changes occurring after land clearing for oil palm establishment have been clearly elucidated by scientists at NIFOR. This has formed the basis for soil fertility management techniques. The various soils supporting the oil palm in Nigeria have been characterized for their potentials and fertility management.
Critical elements: Nutritional studies carried out at NIFOR on the oil palm have shown that potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and magnesium are the key elements required by the oil palm for optimum vegetative growth and high bunch yield. Of these elements, potassium is by far the most important for bunch production.
Critical nutrient levels. Studies at NIFOR have also elucidated the critical levels of nutrient elements in the oil palm based on foliar diagnosis. Consequently this has become a diagnostic tool in soil fertility management for the oil palm.
Fertilizer recommendations. From series of fertilizer experiments conducted by NIFOR in various locations in the oil palm belt of Nigeria, the fertilizer requirements, types and rates for the oil palm have been worked out for different ecologies.
- Oil palm/cocoa intercropping system: From studies conducted between the 1960s to the 1970s, scientists at NIFOR in collaboration with colleagues at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria demonstrated the feasibility of intercropping
oil plain with cocoa. The cropping geometry which permits optimum productivity of both crops in such a cropping scheme was identified.
- Oil palm/arable crops Intercropping systems: Studies conducted in NIFOR since the 1940s have demonstrated suitable systems that permit the simultaneous cultivation of oil palm and food crops in the early years of palm establishment.
Result of these studies show that there is no adverse effect to the oil palm from the intercrops, while the
farmers reap immense economic benefit from the system when the crops are carefully arranged and
Impact: In most of the oil palm belt of Nigeria, the oil palm is intercropped with food crops by the small holders because of:
- Diminishing land for food crop production in high areas of the oil palm belt; and inter-cropped with population density
- The need to offset part of the initial investment in the oil main crop, which has a long gestation period.
This practice was for many years criticized by the World Bank, which advocated sole cropping in its Small-Holder Assisted Projects because of the fear of harmful effect of arable crops on oil palm growth and yield. Consequently these projects failed in some states because the farmers insisted on intercropping.
With the outcome of these studies at NIFOR, the World Bank now accepts oil palm/arable crop inter-cropping as agronomic and economically sound system, which should be encouraged among smallholder farmers.
- Crop Protection: NIFORâ€™s scientific and technical researches at minimizing losses resulting from pests and diseases in Nigeria are many and varied. These have resulted in the development of systematic and effective package of pest and disease control methods now available to the oil palm in Nigeria.
Disease control: The aetiology of the Fusarium wilt has been fully described. Adequate methods for screening for Fusarium wilt-tolerant progenies have been developed at NIFOR and are being further improved upon through research. NIFOR now breeds for Fusarium wilt resistant/tolerant oil hybrid tenera, which is distributed to farmers.
Other important diseases of the oil palm have been described and chemotherapy and complementary agronomic practices for their control have been worked out.
Insect Pests Surveys and Control: From surveys of the insect pests of the oil palm carried out by NIFOR scientists in the main oil palm belt of Nigeria species injurious to the oil palm both as seedlings and mature field palms have been identified. The 72 identified species have been classified into major and minor pests. The seasonal abundance/occurrence, distribution have been studied as a basis for instituting sound pest control strategies. Of a great significance is the leaf-mining hispid (Coelanomenodera elaeidis), which has posed serious threat to the oil palm industry in period occurrence since about 1975 – 1977. Scientists at NIFOR have worked out effective integrated management system for the control of the pest. During the outbreak in 1975 – 1979, NIFOR scientists successfully tackled the problem. Also, NIFOR scientists first described the outbreak of a new major insect pest of the oil palm, Homophylotis catori in the 1980s when it first broke out in Risonpalm Estates in Rivers State. NIFOR scientists successfully brought this insect pest under control in the estate.
Technology for control of other pests such as Rhyncophorus sp, Oryctes monoceros and Cantatops spissus spissus, termites and rodents are also now available to farmers.
Impact: To a large extent, the agronomic soil fertility management and crop protection practices adopted in cultivation of the oil palm in Nigeria and indeed elsewhere, are based on recommendations emanating from the output of research in NIFOR.Â This has guaranteed good and sustainable yields under the climatic and soil conditions of Nigeria. For example in well managed estates such as the Okomu Oil Palm Co. Plc, yields of 15 â€“ 25 tonnes fresh fruit bunches per ha per year are obtained.